Birthday: July 1, 1939
Died At Age: 74
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Karen Blanche Black, Karen Blanche Ziegler
Born in: Park Ridge, Illinois
Famous as: Actress
Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Females
Spouse/Ex-: Charles Black (m. 1960), L. M. Kit Carson (m. 1975 – div. 1983), Robert Burton (m. 1973 – div. 1974), Stephen Eckelberry (m. 1987 – div. 2013)
father: Norman Arthur Ziegler
mother: Elsie Mary Reif
children: Celine Eckelberry, Diane Koehnemann Bay, Hunter Carson
Died on: August 8, 2013
place of death: Providence Saint John's Health Center Emergency Room, Santa Monica, California
Cause of Death: Cancer
U.S. State: Illinois
education: Maine Township High School East, Northwestern University
Who was Karen Black?
Karen Blanche Black was an American actress, playwright, and screenwriter known predominantly for starring in independent films. She was also a singer-songwriter and contributed to the soundtracks of a number of her films and TV shows. She was nominated for the Golden Globe Awards three times and won twice. Born and raised in an Illinois-based affluent family, Black attended Northwestern University, from where she earned her degree in theatre arts. She began her acting career on stage and eventually made it to the Broadway. In 1960, she made her screen debut in the film ‘The Prime Time’. Seven years later, she debuted on the small screen in ‘The F.B.I.’. Black has often been described as a “rangy, imperfect beauty”, especially for her close-set, irredeemably myopic eyes that seemed to look out of alignment when the camera shot her from the front. Over the course of her five-decade-long career, she garnered about 200 film and television credits.
Childhood & Early Life
Born Karen Blanche Ziegler on July 1, 1939, in Park Ridge, Illinois, in suburban Chicago, Black was one of three children of Elsie Mary (née Reif) and Norman Arthur Ziegler. Black had a brother, Peter, and a sister, actress Gail Brown.
Her father was an engineer and businessman while her mother was an award-winning children’s novelist. Her ancestors came to the United States from Bohemia (Czech), Germany, and Norway.
After graduating from Maine Township High School East in 1957, she started attending Northwestern University, from where she received her degree in theatre arts. At the beginning of her acting career, she starred in many plays and went on to make her Broadway debut in the 1986 production of ‘The Playroom’, earning a nomination for the Drama Circle Critic Award for Best Actress for her performance.
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Karen Black debuted on the big screen in Gordon Weisenborn’s ‘The Prime Time’ (1960), portraying a painted woman named Betty. Her first big role was in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1966 directorial venture, ‘You Are a Big Boy Now’.
In 1969, she shared screen space with the likes of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in the iconic counterculture movie ‘Easy Rider’. She portrayed the adulterous wife Myrtle Wilson in the 1974 rendition of ‘The Great Gatsby’, a film for which she won her second Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. A year later, she starred in multiple episodes of Dan Curtis’ horror anthology series ‘Trilogy of Terror’.
Black continued to work through the 1970s and 1980s and appeared in projects like ‘Airport 1975’ (1974), ‘A Day of the Locusts’ (1975), Alfred Hitchcock's ‘Family Plot’ (1976), ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ (1982), and Tobe Hooper's ‘Invaders from Mars’ (1986).
From 1990 onwards, she began to accept roles in independent and horror films. Her portrayal of Mother Firefly in the 2003 horror flick ‘House of 1000 Corpses,’ secured her position as an icon of the genre.
Black wrote the screenplays of several short films and one feature film, the 1998 drama ‘Men’. In 2007, she started her career as a playwright. Her play, ‘Missouri Waltz’, was first staged at Blank Theater in Los Angeles.
As a singer-songwriter, she was nominated for a Grammy Award for the Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special for ‘Nashville’ (1975).
In ‘Five Easy Pieces’ (1970), Black portrayed a young pregnant girl named Rayette Dipesto opposite Jack Nicholson. For her performance, she received the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but eventually lost it to Helen Hayes for ‘Airport’.
Family & Personal Life
In 1960, Karen married Charles Black and adopted his surname. They were married until 1971. In 1973, she wed actor and ‘Trilogy of Terror’ co-star Robert Burton. They divorced in 1974.
Her third husband was actor and screenwriter L. M. Kit Carson. They exchanged wedding vows in July 1975 and had a son together, actor Hunter Carson (born 1975). The couple parted ways in 1980. Black married filmmaker Stephen Eckelberry in September 1987 and adopted a daughter, Celine (born 1987), with him.
Black was a Scientologist. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 2008, she revealed that she had been part of the religion for 30 years.
Death & Legacy
On August 8, 2013, Karen Black passed away at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, from ampullary cancer. She was 74 years old at the time. She was survived by Eckelberry, her children, siblings, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.